Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, but there have also been times when authors tried to pass off fiction as real events. Just like Hollywood has been known to take a lot of liberties with the line “based on a true story” there have been numerous books that turned out to be more fiction than fact. Here are just a few examples of non-fiction books that turned out to be fiction, usually after already becoming wildly popular or bestsellers.
Go Ask Alice is a book written by an anonymous author which claims to be the diary of a 15 year old girl who becomes addicted to drugs. The book was first published in 1971 and tells the story of how Alice is given LSD in her drink at a special part and how that even subsequently destroyed her life. The book became a bestseller, but a few years later some questions about its authenticity began to arise. These days the book is believed to be fiction and many think that the author is a therapist named Beatrice Sparks, who has written other books that are presented as real diaries of teens. However, there are still those who believe that the book is an authentic diary that was kept by a teen who died due to drugs. This has prompted the publishers to add a disclaimer stating that the book is a work of fiction, despite blurbs on the front cover claiming “This is Alice’s true story.”
The Amityville Horror was published in 1977 as “a true story” about the paranormal events experienced by the Lutz family. It is the tale of how the family purchased a five-bedroom house in Amityville for a bargain after the previous occupant murdered six members of his family on the property. Due to the horrifying events they experienced in the house, the family eventually fled. They then presented more than forty hours of tape recordings to author Jay Anson, who used it to write the book. The book was a bestseller and was later even turned into a film. However, upon closer scrutiny, some despites began to arise over the truthfulness of the events relayed by the Lutz family. The defense lawyer for the murderer, William Weber, eventually confessed in a magazine interview that the book is a hoax and that he had a hand in creating the story during a meeting with George and Kathy Lutz.
Love and Consequences: A Memoir of Hope and Survival is the tale of a young part white, part Native American girl who grew up in a neighborhood ruled by gangs. The girl eventually joins a gang herself, but overcome numerous hardships to eventually find a way out of this dangerous lifestyle. Many readers and critics found the tale to be moving and inspirational, but unfortunately it also turned out to be entirely fictional. The deceit was discovered when the author’s own sister contacted the publisher and revealed that nothing in the book was true. It turned out that despite speaking in an African American Vernacular dialect during interviews, the author was actually fully white, grew up in an upscale community, and attended an affluent school. During the ensuing controversy, the publisher of the book recalled all copies and even offered refunds to buyers who were understandably outraged by the deceit.
With a blurb on the cover by Bret Easton Ellis stating that this book is a “heartbreaking memoir” and “inspirational and essential” it is clear that author James Frey had everyone convinced that his story is true. In fact, it ended up on Oprah’s Book Club selection and shot to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list where it remained for fifteen weeks straight. The book chronicles the life of the then twenty three year old author who ends up in a rehabilitation center after a decade of abusing drugs and alcohol. However, further investigation into his story revealed that most of it was fabricated, which resulted in another appearance on Oprah where she grilled the author about his deception. Readers who felt defrauded were offered a refund by his publisher and future editions of the book included notes from both the publisher and author about the fabrications.